Everyone is talking about hydrogen. But none of the established yacht manufacturers wants to burn their fingers on the energy carrier of the future. The technology is still too new, the instrument structure too fragile, and the reservations of conservative customers too great. And so it is up to an innovative founder to put the first series-produced boat with a fuel cell on the water, the Hynova 42. It is the young French skipper Chloé Zaied.
While many shipyards are currently thinking hard about whether to equip their boats with batteries and electric propulsion, Chloé Zaied is building her first motor yacht with a fuel cell that generates electrical power from hydrogen gas carried on board and oxygen in the ambient air. Its name: Hynova. It is her first boat ever.
At the Cannes Yachting Festival, the 30-year-old founder presented the prototype of a day boat that runs on hydrogen power. And it isn’t slow at all: At a working speed of twelve knots, the Hynova 42 can run for around eight hours until the tanks are empty. And afterwards, the open motorboat does not need to be plugged in for eight hours but refills the pressure tanks in about 20 minutes.
Provided there is a gas pump nearby. The only obstacle to the new propulsion technology is the lack of hydrogen filling stations on the water. Even on the road, the innovative technology is still rare: Germany currently has 90 hydrogen filling stations. But development there is moving fast: Five years ago, there were only 50. The world’s first public H2 filling station was only inaugurated in 2002.
Chloé Zaied presented the first serial produced boat with hydrogen propulsion in Cannes © Kerstin Zillmer
And Chloé Zaied is doing her best to adapt this pace for maritime refueling facilities: She is in active exchange with port operators and government agencies, the 30-year-old told float at the presentation of Hynova 42. Several new hydrogen refueling stations could open on the Côte D’Azur next year, so that an initial infrastructure will be in place when the first Hynova sails.
Three boats already under construction
Three boats with this quiet, emission-free and efficient propulsion system are already under construction. The technology, which was eyed with suspicion just a few years ago, is now considered safe and suitable for everyday use. „It works perfectly and is safer than lithium-ion batteries,“ says Laurent Perignon of EODev. The company supplies Hynova with RExH2, the fuel cell that produces electric power from hydrogen in the first model. Incidentally, the system was first installed in the record-breaking Energy Observer boat, which has been circumnavigating the globe using only solar energy since 2017. There it serves as a range extender.
The boat has a large swimming platform and four sun bathing spaces at bow and stern © Kerstin Zillmer
The Hynova 42 can carry up to twelve passengers. The hull is 4.2m wide © Kerstin Zillmer
The draught of the Hynova 42 is less than one meter, so it's ideal to go for a swim © Kerstin Zillmer
In principle, the unit also has this function on the Hynova 42, which basically is a battery boat whose batteries are continuously supplied with fresh energy from the fuel cell. On a first trip with the pre-series boat, the typical amenities that distinguish electric propulsion were already noticeable: Torque and power are instantaneous. The virtually silent engine draws attention to the surrounding element, bringing the sound of the waves, the whistling of the wind and the screeching of the sea birds to the fore. But of course, you can also put the levers on the table: up to 26 knots fast.
Parque Calanques is situated only a few sea miles away from Marseilles © CC BY-SA 3.0
With this, Chloé Zaied sees her dream realized: to be on the road in the midst of nature, without causing damage to nature: „I’ve often gone boating in the Calanques National Park and I’ve always dreamed of having a vehicle that doesn’t pollute the environment.“ Originally, the skipper had thought of a battery-only boat. „The problem was always the range.“ She has now solved that problem.
Water flows back into the sea
Three tanks in the stern store up to 22 kilograms of hydrogen on the Hynova 42, which is consistently converted into electricity while driving. The water that is also produced in the process flows back into the sea – the only emission! A hydrogen boat also needs batteries: They serve as buffer storage because the fuel cell is not suitable for sudden power calls. This has the pleasant side effect that a Hynova can always be recharged at a socket. This takes a little longer than refueling. Fuel cell drive is therefore a hybrid drive.
The fuel cell REXH2 by EODev was already in use on the Energy Observer. © Kerstin Zillmer
The Toyota writing indicates which parts come from the Japanese company © Kerstin Zillmer
The Hynova 42 carries three hydrogen tanks which are lighter than batteries © Kerstin Zillmer
The Borg-Warner electric motors accelerate the Hynova 42 up to 26 knots © Kerstin Zillmer
The Hynova’s lithium-ion batteries weigh around 1.5 tons. Including the 116-kilo tanks and the small power plant weighing a total of 400 kilos, the entire system weighs about 2.5 tons. „If we were to equip the Hynova 42 with battery propulsion only, it would weigh another four to five tons more,“ says Laurent Perignon. Fuel cell propulsion on the water is thus recognizably more efficient.
Durability no longer a problem
For a long time, fuel cells were considered interesting, but not marketable. In particular, the service life of the sensitive units has been tightly limited up to now. EODev assumes a life expectancy of 13,000 operating hours. Every 5,000 hours, the fan must be renewed, the company says in response to a float inquiry. Filters are not maintenance-free either. „We record data on this in order to be able to carry out maintenance as a precaution,“ Perignon tells float. By comparison, an internal combustion engine in a car is considered very robust if it can handle more than 10,000 hours of operation.
Hynova already presented a prototype at the Cannes Yachting Festival © Kerstin Zillmer
The leak tightness of hydrogen tanks, once a technical problem, can also be managed, according to EODev. „The loss is now negligible, it has no impact on the operability of the boat,“ says Laurent Perignon. It is still too early to give a precise figure for hydrogen consumption. But EODev is already working on a forecast for the production version.
The two Borg-Warner electric motors have sufficient scope to allow short thrills of speed. 200 kilowatts each allow brute acceleration at the expense of range. EoDev is already turning the scaling screw. The company is working on linking six fuel cells together, which will then generate up to 400 kW of power.
Toyota and Accor invest
One of EODev’s investors is automaker Toyota. The Japanese launched the first mass-produced fuel cell-powered car, the Mirai, in 2014. They provide essential technical support. „The collaboration started in 2020 with the installation of a fuel cell in the Energy Observer catamaran,“ says Laurent Perignon.
Another shareholder is the Accor hotel group, which is one of the largest hotel chains in the world with brands such as Novotel, Mercure and Ibis. For the hospitality industry, the use of stationary generators to produce electricity is attractive. Large-scale fuel cells have already been in use on cruise ships for several years to supply the hotel industry with electricity on board.
Laurent Perignon and Chloé Zaied at their presentation in Cannes © Kerstin Zillmer
Chloé Zaied created her company Hynova from scratch. At least, that’s how it looks. Her investors are private, she tells float. The startup also won over the jury in a public tender: at an environmental symposium at the Monaco Yacht Club, Chloé was awarded a yard space. In the Yachting Village of La Ciotat near Marseille, she will be allowed to operate her company at an incentive rate for three years. During this time, Hynova plans to build eight boats – at least.
The criteria evaluated were feasibility, the prospect of jobs and the environmental footprint. The jury was right on the money with the young skipper. Because sustainability should already be a priority during construction. „Not only do I want to design boats that have as little impact on the environment as possible, but I also want to inform, promote and advance the role of green hydrogen in the maritime world,“ says Chloé. This will require going to market, she mentions to float. It will be interesting to see how the market will react.